Indiana University School of Law
"The higher you climb, the deeper you get."
Patrick Meyers, from his play, K2 (1983)
I remember when I first became an acquisitions librarian. The year was 1983, and the library was at a small state university in Tennessee. Our "automation" consisted of OCLC cataloging and a dedicated Dialog keyboard/printer for online reference searches. By the time I left in 1987, we had started ordering books with a Baker & Taylor Betaphone and I produced a monthly acquisitions list on my sewing machine sized Compaq personal computer which I brought in from home. From Tennessee I moved to another public university in Maryland where we had a full-fledged online catalog, although no acquisitions module. In my final year at Maryland we began using a stand alone microcomputer-based acquisitions system. Also during my last few months in Maryland, I served on the statewide committee that selected the universityís next generation library system - this time to include an acquisitions module. Just as the committee made its selection, in 1990, I moved on to the Indiana University School of Lawís library as that library was bringing up the Acquistions/Serials module of a fully integrated system.
Joining a library that already had an automated acquisitions system made me feel like I had reached the top of the mountain. I assumed that I could now rest on the summit, admiring the view and effortlessly (with just a few keystrokes) order, receive, and pay for all library materials. It didnít take long for me to realize that my rest would be brief. What has taken a little longer for me to learn is that climbing one peak is not as satisfying as climbing an entire mountain range. And while many of the peaks in that range may be smaller than that first one you climbed, each will be filled with its own set of risks and challenges. Iíve recently run into a few of these peaks in the form of our universityís decision to implement a second-generation automated system.
While one might argue that bringing up a second system is far less daunting than bringing up a libraryís first system, take my word - there are plenty of unique challenges presented to those moving from one system to a new. From the relatively minor problems associated with terminology (what is referred to as an "item" record in one system may not be the same thing as an "item" record in the new system) to the more complex technological questions (will the data in the old system properly transfer into the system?), merging from one system to another will challenge any acquisitions librarian to evaluate the way things are done. And while it is tempting to try to tweak the new system into working like the old system, it is essential that you expand your vision to see just what the new system can do that the old system could not.
Luckily, the change from one system to another does not happen overnight. In our case we have had more than 18 months to prepare for the change. Still, as we move into the final stages of the actual switch (scheduled for January 2001) one canít but help feel a little apprehensive about such a monumental change. Donít get me wrong: we all recognize the advantages of moving to a system that takes advantage of the latest technologies - after all, our current system has been running for more than ten years and is probably using technology that was created 15 or more years ago. Intellectually we all know that the new system will allow us to do things that are just not possible with the old, but still there is nothing quite as comforting as working with something you already know. Sure the old system never did exactly what we wanted, but weíve managed; weíve massaged and tweaked it to the point that it did what we needed it to do. And while we often complained about certain aspects of the system, Iíve noticed that as weíve moved closer to the big day the complaints have almost completely ceased. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear someone ask why wonít the new system do it the way the old system did.
As I said, most librarians who find themselves in this position will not be alone, and that includes acquistions librarians. Your colleagues at your library and your colleagues at your automation vendor will all be involved in the process. Chances are that each professional will be focusing on specific aspects of the merger. You, no doubt, will be focusing on the acquisitions and/or serials aspects. That has been the case in my particular situation and, even though the process is not yet complete, Iíd like to offer up a list of questions that I think any acquisitions librarian should ponder as the planning process begins. The answers to these questions will largely be influenced by the two systems being merged and may not be fully answered until the new system comes up, but still, posing the questions will force you to start thinking about some of the specifics of how the two systems will blend. Iíve broken the questions down into three categories, but I suspect there could be many more.
I truly believe that by asking yourself these, and other questions, the merger will go smoother than it will if you donít. But donít get me wrong: you will run into surprises and problems, and there will be times when your answers to the questions turn out to be wrong. Still, by constantly questioning yourself and your system(s), you will discover that your skills as an acquisitions librarian/mountaineer will increase while the risk of failure will decrease.